PopMatters Film and TV Editor
A pretty high school student, knowing the killer is close to breaking through her bedroom door, calls 911 on her PC. Her eyes wide and her heart pounding, she types in her message: “White woman in trouble!” In an instant, her suburban driveway is crowded with cruisers, sirens shrieking and lights flashing, and her wouldabeen slayer is beating a hasty retreat.
Most everyone watching this scene in Scary Movie will recognize it as a riff on Scream, Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher flick that riffed on previous slasher flicks, including Craven’s own Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which itself riffed on proto-slasher flicks like Hitchcock’s Psycho. The lineage of Scary Movie‘s Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) is built into her farcical existence. The Last Girl character the one who survives the slasher’s horrific rampaging is typically a good girl, smart, self-conscious, not necessarily asexual (like Halloween‘s Jamie Lee Curtis) but at least virtuous, and somewhat “masculine” in her fight-back abilities. Cindy is all this, but she has to contend with more than just the monster. She also has to be the straight woman to a crew of rakish pranksters: I can’t imagine what it was like to work with these guys.
On its surface, the film consists of a regular slasher plot. But it’s full of shifts and messes. Cindy’s escape from the black-robed, death-masked, generally silly monster involves the usual dodging and outsmarting, plus the fact that she’s running through scenes borrowed from all kinds of movies. Cindy performs and comments on the familiar role, the girl in trouble. According to formula, the role is simultaneously titillating, frightening, and moneymaking. All of the above is multiplied exponentially, of course, if said girl is wearing very little, say a bath-towel or wet underwear, like Carmen Electra does while playing in “Drew” (as in Barrymore) in Scary Movie‘s introductory homage. She gets the phone call, pops the corn, cries and screams, runs through the lawn sprinkler, and is, inevitably, brutally slashed. In slow motion.
By turns brainy and banal, Scary Movie culls from the sources you’d expect, including the Screams, the I Still Know What You Did Last Summers, and Halloween: H20, and a few you might not anticipate, like “feminine odor” and “whassup” commercials, Mel Brooks, The Usual Suspects, The Matrix, The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, and Dawson’s Creek (James Van Der Beek makes one particularly apposite appearance, crawling in through a window to the tune of Paula Cole’s by-now-royally-irritating “I Don’t Want To Wait”). While the attractive-white-teens-obsessing-about- sex phenomenon has already come in for its share of drubbing, the Wayans brothers Keenen directing and co- writing, Marlon and Shawn co-writing and performing bring something else to the table. First and most obviously, they mix their typically upbeat parodies with a certain signature yuckiness, previously and often brilliantly demonstrated in their TV series In Living Color (which famously hatched Jim Carrey), and the popular spoof-movies I’m Gonna Get You Sucka and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Moreover, the Wayans, having some attitude concerning the world they live in, also inject occasional social commentary, as for instance, in the “white woman in trouble” scene. Or the scene drawn from Scream 2 in which Omar Epps gets a knife in the head, as a terrible punishment for trying to listen in on what sounds like a sex act in a movie theater bathroom stall. In the Scary Movie version, the knife is turned into a huge black penis, which goes straight through an unfortunately curious character’s skull. In a word, nasty.
Still, the film’s main interest lies in the yuckiness sweepstakes, which continue to escalate in scope and imagination. If the grand effrontery of American Pie, Tom Green, and now Survivor, has taught us anything, it’s that the Farrelly brothers are not unique, only leading a pack. Scary Movie, for all its Airplane!-derived goofball humor, also delivers a requisite and near-daunting raucousness. So, where some jokes are easy (the monster gets stoned with some of the boys), others are off the scale. Keenen and company (including co-writers Phil Beauman and Jason Friedberg) take gags that have long since been done to death into some other dimension. I mean, Squiggy the Squiggy, from Laverne and Shirley is the high school principal.
Moreover, the movie offers every flavor of disgusto joke: phys-ed teacher Miss Mann’s (Jane Trcka) saggy testicles hang out from under her little pleated skirt (much to sweet Cindy’s discomfort); Drew’s parents fail to save her because they’re too busy with a front-seat blowjob; and ruthless reporter Gail Hailstorm (who has written a book called You’re Dead, I’m Rich and is played by the indefatigable Cheri Oteri) comes in for an awful Blair-Witchy comeuppance, following her repeated abuses of easy mark special ed student Doofy (Dave Sheridan). Or again, Buffy (American Pie‘s Shannon Elizabeth) takes part in a Titanic-themed teen beauty pageant where contestants wear sashes proclaiming them “Miss Thing” and “Miss Felatio.” Not to mention star footballer Ray (Shawn Wayans, and yes, he and everyone else are too old to be in high school) is effusively, “Men-on-Film”-ishly gay, neatly revising (by not sidestepping) the violent homoerotics in Scream, or the murder of a talky filmgoer by the entire audience, whose members have grown impatient with her incessant sass. It’s some kind of bizarre icing on this cake that the scene takes place in front of a screen showing Amistad 2, in which Keenen Wayans makes a cameo appearance as a mightily pissed off slave.
Because the movie doesn’t really have a plot or characters per se and adopts an explicit assault-on-all-icons approach, it might appear to be as mindless as its targets. And it would be easy to dismiss it as such. But this would sell both Scary Movie and its targets short. Wes Craven has famously observed that scary movies reveal and explore deep cultural concerns, such as tensions between generations, races, classes, and genders. It’s clear that slasher flicks especially appeal to young viewers not only because they showcase nubile, anonymous, almost-always white teen bodies being stalked and skewered, but because they act out in comedic and self-admittedly titillating terms their real feelings of disenfranchisement and alienation. Scary Movie does all this and more, extremely.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/scary-movie/